TOKYO, Aug 3 (Reuters) – The Japanese opening of hit movie “Barbie” suffered further setbacks as an online petition gathered steam calling on Hollywood studios to reject a grassroots marketing movement that made light of nuclear holocaust.
A Change.org petition gathered more than 16,000 signatures over two days starting Thursday, demanding that Warner Bros ( WBD.O ) and Universal Pictures, the studio behind the “Oppenheimer” biopic, end the “Barbenheimer” hashtag that has to make the film a global blockbuster.
“Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie, has grossed more than $800 million at the box office worldwide, while the film about nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, which opened around the same time last month, has taken in more than $400 million.
Warner Bros initially latched onto fan-produced memes depicting Robbie’s Barbie with actor Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer alongside images of nuclear explosions.
But fans were not amused in Japan, which in the coming days will mark the memorials for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago.
“If one were to create an illustration or derivative art of Barbenheimer, it should not be of Barbie rejoicing in a mushroom cloud,” Koji Maruyama said on the Change.org website. “Barbie should never be a character who rejoices in misfortune or tragedy.”
A #NoBarbenheimer hashtag trended online, retweeted more than 100,000 times by one measure, prompting Warners’ Japanese division to issue a rare public criticism of its parent company, which was followed by an apology this week.
Mitsuki Takahata, who voices Barbie in the dubbed Japanese version, wrote on Instagram on Wednesday that she was horrified when she heard about the memes and considered dropping out of a promotional event in Tokyo celebrating the Aug. 11 opening.
“This incident is really, really disappointing,” she wrote.
That same day, the media-savvy US ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, posted a photo of his meeting in Tokyo with director Greta Gerwig, but the response online was cool.
“Your post at this time will get on the nerves of many Japanese and will further strengthen their resolve to never see that movie,” responded a poster known as tsuredzure on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.
An embassy spokesman said Emanuel brought his wife, daughter and her friends to see “Barbie” and that he embraces the film’s message of women’s empowerment.
No release date has been announced in Japan for “Oppenheimer,” which tells the story of the creation of the atomic bomb. The film has been criticized for largely ignoring the weapon’s devastation in Japan towards the end of World War II, wiping out two major cities and accounting for more than 200,000 deaths.
Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Michael Perry
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